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Posts Tagged ‘the writing habit’

What’s wonderful is when you discover an author whose work, once read, fills a gap in the world you’ve never realized was there before. And I love it even more when they are alive and writing. This is such a gift I feel the only way I can possibly repay it is by writing to the author and telling them so.

I am currently readingPeople I Wanted To Be, Gina Ochsner (pronounced OH-sner). This short story collection was published in 2005; her first, The Necessary Grace To Fall, won the Flannery O’Connor award and was published in 2002. Most recently she wrote a novel called The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, and I bought it, brand new–which is something.

I am still getting practice at writing book reviews (my first, for Susan Minot’s Monkeys, showed up in Hot Metal Bridge earlier this year); but I would like to tell you about her sometime soon, when I am not procrastinating preparing for class.

In the meantime, here is a quote of hers from an interview. It really pleases me to no end. Although I have a feeling I need to give myself at least an hour when I sit down to write; but every time I read something like this, that shows how different the process is for every writer, it brightens my heart and makes it a more welcome place for hope, that thing with feathers.

It IS true that I only write a few times a week and those times tend to be very short in duration—perhaps an hour or shorter. For awhile I worried that these short spurts spelled doom for me as a writer. Surely a writer must always be writing? But then I stumbled upon a brilliant interview in Associated Writers Chronicle with Jill McCorkle. She’s a wonderful short story writer and novelist and the interviewer asked her how many hours a day she wrote. She laughed, I think. The word hours must have struck her sideways. Because, as it turned out, she wrote in small spurts: forty minutes here, thirty minutes there, and in this way constructed magnificent novels. She mentioned that had she held out for long blocks of time she would have become embittered because the large blocks of time simply never arrive on schedule. That’s been true with me as well. But ten minutes? Those open up all the time while I’m waiting in line at the post office (what a great place to people-watch!). Likewise, in doing the mundane, daily tasks of washing dishes, stirring the laundry, fishing for the mate to a lonely sock, I am working out with my hands a snarl with a story. The hands complete what my mind cannot. And so, yes, I am breathing around the story and the characters who will not be pushed or bullied by my hands on the keyboard. It’s always better for me to clean the house first, anyway. If things go sour with a story, and things always do at some point, I console myself with the knowledge that at the very least I matched seven pairs of socks, and that is no small thing.

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Because it is high time I return The Habit of Being to the Oratory’s library, I am removing all the little markers that still linger between the pages. So you are in for another dose of wisdom from Flannery today.

I’m a full believer in writing habits, pedestrian as it all may sound. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away. […] Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place. This doesn’t mean I produce much out of the two hours. Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away, but I don’t think any of that was time wasted. Something goes on that makes it easier when it does come well. And the fact is if you don’t sit there every day, the day it would come well, you won’t be sitting there.

She is writing to a teacher, and goes on to say that your “set time” needs to come when you have a fresh mind, before all your creative energy has gone to your students.

And this is why I imagine I won’t be writing much this week while I grade the second batch of nineteen essays. This depresses me, but it’s also encouraging to know now that I won’t get any writing done, because my priorities must be elsewhere.

And now the book returns to its shelf in the Oratory. I shall miss it, this specific, material, concrete book. I fully intend to buy a copy of my own someday, but I feel that this is the copy I should own: the one I have fallen asleep with and cried over and stuck full of little bits of paper, now all gone.

~~~

Bonus quote! On the use of fiction for “propaganda”:

The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it. […] art is wholly concerned with the good of that which is made; it has no utilitarian end. If you do manage to use it successfully for social, religious, or other purposes, it is because you make it art first.

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